By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

NPR goes into damage-control mode over Williams

Juan Williams

After NPR chief executive Vivian Schiller said Juan Williams should keep his feelings about Muslims between himself and “his psychiatrist or his publicist,” I thought perhaps it was Schiller who ought to schedule some couch time. She apologized, and today she’s in damage-control mode.

NPR media reporter David Folkenflik did something very smart (which I learned about through Jack Shafer’s Twitter feed): he refused to attend an off-the-record staff meeting about Williams’ firing following offensive comments he made on Fox News. Instead, Folkenflik pieced together what happened by interviewing some of those who did attend. Based on Folkenflik’s tweets, Schiller seems to have hit the right notes. (I’m running them in chronological order rather than the usual reverse chrono:

The all-staff meeting was off the record, so I did not attend. However, staffers who did told me the following:

Schiller said decision to give Wms notice was not because of slip of the tongue, but latest in a series of violations of NPR ethics policy

Schiller said it had been raised several times but that he continued to inject personal opinon in his analysis in settings outside NPR.

Schiller said at some point, you have to draw the line. (more)

Though she called it the right decision, Schiller also said NPR did not handle Wms’ ouster well. She promised staffers a “full post-mortem.”

Schiller also said she was ambushed leaving her home by a two-person camera crew identifying itself as being from Fox News.

Over and out.

I feel a little better about this than I did yesterday. Schiller did the right thing for the wrong reason at the wrong time. What’s important is that she knows she blew the handling of it. No way she can undo it — not after Fox News rewarded Williams with a three-year, $2 million deal. But at least she seems determined to make the best of a bad situation. It sounds like she’s adopted the views of NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard, who writes that “a more deliberative approach might have enabled NPR to avoid what has turned into a public relations nightmare.”

Here is our discussion of the Williams matter on tonight’s “Beat the Press.” I’m also quoted in a Christian Science Monitor story on the hazards of straddling the reporter/analyst/commentator divide.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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  1. L.K. Collins

    “…If he is correct, that’s too bad. I think NPR owed him a chance to explain himself….” — Alicia Shepard

    For the ombudsman to make this sort of statement, it is obvious that she did not do her homework and rushed to get out a PR line that tries to stem the tide.

    I agreed with Dan’s previous assessment. I’m not so sure any more. Why can’t their own ombudsman admit to the facts?

    It seems like NPR is ducking for the bull rushes until things blow over, but I don’t think they can get low enough to hide.

  2. Mike Benedict

    The joke — as always — is on Fox. They just way overpaid for TV’s version of Mario Mendoza. No one — repeat, no one — tunes in for Juan Williams’ opinion.

  3. Steve Stein

    That was the best BtP discussion I’ve ever seen.

  4. Steven Ayers

    I wonder if Dan Kennedy locks his car doors when he drives through Mattapan or Roxbury? Opps! Dan Kennedy would never show his honky face there.

    Would Dan Kennedy publicly admit to it if he did?

  5. Sean Griffin

    If Juan Williams is Mario Mendoza, what does that make Cokie Roberts?

  6. Laurence Glavin

    In radio communications verbiage, “over” means that the sender has temporarily ceased transmitting and is waiting a reply. “Out” means the sender has finished the message and is NOT expecting a reply. Thus “over and out” is a contradiction in terms. I believe Leviticus condemns anyone who uses “over and out” to death by stoning.

  7. Mike Benedict

    @Steven Ayers: I would venture to say most people lock their doors wherever they drive. It’s a lot safer if someone runs into you.

    @Sean Griffin: Bill Bergen

  8. Steve Stein

    This discussion can’t be complete without noting this excellent website – Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things, even though Juan Williams might be scared by it.

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